History of the World Crisis

Lecture 10: 
Proletarian Agitation in Europe in 1919 and 1920

Translated by Juan R. Fajardo, 2000

(Delivered to the “Gonzales Prada” People’s University,
at the Peruvian Student Federation hall, Lima, on September 7, 1923.)


Author’s Notes:

"Proletarian agitation in Europe. Italy on the verge of revolution. The elections of 1919. The factory occupations. The III International. The centrist International, or International two-and-one-half. The socialist schism."

Let's see how this period of proletarian agitation was hatched. During the war, the capitalist regime found itself forced to make numerous concessions to the working class and the socialist ideal. The proletariat's co-operation was indispensable. The proletariat, and its economic doctrine, achieved some conquests, some advances, which increased its strength and strengthened its faith. Later, there came another cause of proletarian affirmation: the Russian Revolution. The European states exerted themselves, on the one hand, in asphyxiating the revolution in Russia and, on the other, in preventing its spread to the rest of Europe. It was a moment of advance for the revolutionary idea. A moment of offensive by the proletariat. An instant of apogee for the revolution. The social struggle's characteristic was the proletariat's initiative in attack. In Germany, Bavaria, Austria, Hungary. In the face of this offensive, the regime was forced to retreat, to pull back. The most attentive and perspicacious statesmen understood then that it was not possible to save it without great sacrifices. An advancedly reformist current dominated. The bourgeoisie adopted a renovating attitude. It affirmed its democratic and evolutionist leanings. It condemned dictatorship. It sang to peace. Exhalted universal suffrage and parliamentarism. It covered the Versailles Peace with the League of Nations. Created the International Labor Office. Called together the First Labor Congress in Washington. This policy tended to divide the proletariat, drawing its largest masses to the path of collaboration and reform. This division took place. Part of the socialist parties and the unions spoke out for a revolutionary politics. Another spoke in favor of a prudent and transactional policy which avoided all decisive and violent action. The former created the III International. The latter organized the II International. Some centrist, in-between elements kept their independence. Later on they gathered in the International two-and-one-half.

The II International. Berne, February 1919. Lucerne, August 1919. Geneva, 30 July 1920. Reformist Syndicalist International. November 1920.

The III International. 1st. Congress 2-6 March 1919. 2nd. Congress, July 1920. Here were established the 21 conditions which split the parties of France, Germany, etc. In Germany, Halle 12-17 October 1919. In France, Tours December 1920. In England, August of 1920.

The International 2 1/2. Berne, December 1920, some months later in Vienna. Also, mass actions. In England, in 1920, the coalminers' strike. In France, the railworkers' strike in May 1920, which brought about the decree dissolving the C.G.T. and the imprisonment of Souvarine, Loriot, and Dunois. In Germany, the agitation in the Ruhr after Kapp's coup, in April 1920. Spain and Japan. The strikes in solidarity with proletarian Hungary against Horthy's reaction. But in Italy the agitation reached even greater proportions.

The July 1919 strikes. The November 1919 elections. The general strike in protest against the attack on several socialist deputies. The 1920 railway and postal workers' strikes. The economic price of bread and the fall of Nitti. Giolitti's government.

The factory occupations. Their antecedents. On June 18th the metalworkers demanded economic improvements relative to the rise in the cost of living. Negotiations, proposals, and counterproposals. On August 13th, break-down of the negotiations. On August 21st obstructionism begins. On August 30th the Romeo Factory of Milan, with close to 2,000, declared a lock-out* Immediately after, 300 factories were taken over in Milan. Immediately, the movement spread to all of Italy.

Aspects of the occupation's internal regime. The carrying out of work. The discipline. The financing of the works. Vigilance. The governmental attitude. The owners demanded the eviction of the workers by force. The debate between the General Confederation on Labor and the Socialist Party. The prevailing by the Confederation's thesis. The control of the factories. The government's intervention. Meeting of workers and bosses, presided over by Giolitti, on September 15th in Turin. Subjection of the industrialists. The negotiations with the industrialists about pay for the days of work. Pay of the agreed-upon increases from July 25th to August. The government's decree. The Metallurgical Congress approved the agreement. It was ratified with a referendum. 148,000 votes against 42,000. September 24th.

Later, the Livorna Congress.

Thus ended the revolutionary period and began the reactionary period.

Fascism is the reaction. However, it accelerates the revolutionary process because it destroys the democratic institutions. Fascism has devalued parliament and suffrage. Fascism has shown the path of dictatorship and violence. Earlier, democracy raised its characteristic institutions in opposition to bolshevism: parliament and universal suffrage. Now, the bourgeoisie discredits both institutions. We have just seen, in Spain, a likewise anti-parliamentarian military movement.

Is the united front of the bourgeoisie possible? Yes, but only provisionally, only while a decisive assault by the revolution is forestalled. Later, each of the bourgeoisie's groups tries to regain its autonomy. Woe to the proletariat if the bourgeoisie were to be inspired by a single ideology and a single interest. With the bourgeoisie there exist contrasts of ideology and interests, contrasts that nothing can suppress. The radical, democratic, liberal, elements of the bourgeoisie, which are thus due to psychology and position in society, can consent temporarily to a conservative reaction absorbing them, but tend, immediately, toward re-establishing the old balance. Why? Because a united front is built on the basis a capitulation of the democratic and reformist ideals to the conservative ideals. It is not made on the basis of a transaction, but on the basis of a renunciation. There are capitalist elements, men of the bourgeoisie, who believe that a social transformation is necessary and that a dictatorially reactionary regime cannot last without exasperating the revolution and increasing its destructive impetus. Nitti, Caileaux, Walter Rathenau. Thus, the united front cannot be long-lasting; it would, in addition, provoke the united front of the proletariat.

The Western world is debated in this chaos, in this conflict. Its political institutions do not correspond to new economic reality. A part of its conservative forces speak out for a program of audacious reforms which would gradually transform society. Another fears that the concessions to the revolution, once begun, would be impossible to stop. And they, therefore, attempt to resist. The proletariat needs to attentively follow this conflict's progress.


* The words "lock out" appeared in English in the original. -Trans.

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